By Tony Mansell
The 1000 Cornish Male Voice concert in the Royal Albert Hall in 1983 was clearly one of those events to which the epithet “I was there” should be attributed. An event where the clan gathered to produce an amazing concert and to celebrate their “Cornishness”.
To my regret I was not there, but in compiling this article I have begun to capture the glow of the event which after almost 40 years, still burns bright in the memories of both those who took part and those who listened as they experienced the atmosphere in that wonderful venue.
One thousand Cornish voices, maybe more, carried to the top of the dome and back to every listener’s ear and while this vocal feast penetrated every corner of this fine old building, “the band played on”. That band being the Camborne Town Band which just 12 months earlier had been placed 4th in the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain in this very hall.
For Cornishman Richard Radcliffe this concert had been a dream and it was his drive and enthusiasm that had turned it into reality. Using his position as Master of Ceremonies he paid tribute to the many people who had worked hard to bring it about not least “my wife, Rosemary, and my sons James and Guy who have had to live with ‘Albert’ for eighteen months”.
The stars of the show from across Cornwall had been preparing for months and we can imagine that life began to be more and more frenetic as the date drew closer. Kingsley Hitchens of Four Lanes Choir recalled, “I was working at County Hall in the same office as Roy Nancarrow [Camborne Town Band] and in the lead up to the event Richard Radcliffe often came in and spoke to us so we were kept in touch with the arrangements and with the many difficulties he was encountering. These included obtaining replies from choirs about numbers attending and about who required transport to and from the capital. From memory, I think there were about 1200 singers. That was more than anticipated and as a result some members of St Buryan choir were unable to take part which was very sad. Rehearsals were held in different parts of Cornwall and they went well apart from the lack of show by a few who did not pull their weight. I know that one or two choirs ended up advertising for extra members offering a uniform and a trip to London.”
A special train was hired to run from Cornwall to Paddington and British Rail were very accommodating. Richard referred to it from the stage, “Everything was in place when I had a phone call from a couple asking if they could get on at Plymouth Station. I explained we would not be stopping there but after discussing it with British Rail, I was able to tell them that an unscheduled stop had been arranged. It resulted in a couple of very happy people.”
Melville Strike of St Agnes was a member of Chacewater Choir. He said, “Many travelled to London by train but I went by car. It was a huge event and the arrangements seemed chaotic, but it all came together in the end.”
Wayne Brown, tenor horn player with Camborne Town Band was greatly impressed with the sound of the Royal Albert Hall organ during rehearsals. He said, “It was an amazing sound. Perhaps the most amusing thing during the afternoon rehearsal came from a member of the choir. There were more members than anticipated and some had to stand up in ‘the Gods,’ right at the very top of the Hall and when the conductor tried to speak to them, they couldn’t hear him. One of them shouted down ‘What do you think we’re going to do up here, sell ice cream’.”
Apart from the rehearsal there was a lot of work being undertaken by the “backroom boys” including one who turned out to be a Cornishman. He was installing electrical equipment up in the dome. One wag spotted him and shouted, “What’s the view like up there?”
Quick as a flash the reply came down, “Just like Gwennap Pit with a roof on!”
The concert had a sparkling line up. Apart from the choir and brass band it featured Wendy Eathorne (soprano), John Treleaven (tenor) and Alan Opie (baritone). John Winter, organist of Truro Cathedral, began the event by playing for half-an-hour before the start of the concert, Geoffrey Pratley was the accompanist, Richard Radcliffe the Master of Ceremonies and providing the musical lead was conductor Vilem Tausky, a man familiar to Cornish audiences.
Male Voice choirs which took part:
Chacewater and District
ECLP Engineering Department
Launceston combined Brotherhood and Methodist
St Columba Celtic
South West Electricity Board
A list of choir members is included in the Souvenir Programme which is held at Kresen Kernow. (The programme, signed by Vilem Tausky, has been donated to Kresen Kernow by my cousin, Tony Paddy)
Camborne Town Band
Roy Nancarrow recalled that conductor Derek Greenwood was so moved by the occasion that he wished he were a Cornishman. Whether he would have repeated this in his native Yorkshire is doubtful, but it was a nice comment. Derek Greenwood, Musical Director of Camborne Town Band, was his usual jocular self in recalling, “I can remember that when we got back to the hotel the bar was closed: disaster! I also remember Harry Mortimer calling me Young Greenwood and that continued for years after.”
Brass band legend Harry Mortimer was a surprise inclusion in the concert. Wayne Brown of Camborne Town Band remembered the concert with great pride “… especially when Harry Mortimer conducted us for the ‘Introduction to Act 3 Lohengrin’. What an honour that was!”
It was before Marcus Dunstan had joined Camborne Town Band and he took part as a guest player. He said, “Obviously it was a massive occasion for me but my main memory was the surprise appearance of Harry Mortimer to conduct one item. There was very little arm movements as he seemed to be controlling things with his facial expressions and eyebrows. At one stage he looked in my direction and that was a bit unnerving.”
Kingsley Hitchens recalled that Richard Radcliffe was dressed in a black dress suit but as he was getting ready he realised that he only had brown shoes. Being the compère, the mixture of black and brown was going to stand out like a sore thumb. Luckily, one member of the choir was willing to swop shoes and as he was less prominently placed it was not noticed. My cousin, Tony Paddy, added, “Richard thought that he had got away with it but Vilem Tausky spilt the beans from the rostrum”.
So it was that on the evening of the 5th of November 1983, over 1000 members of Cornish Male Voice Choirs, Camborne Town Band, guest singers and musicians took part in a concert that still lives on in the memories of those who experienced the wealth of talent brought together for this unique Cornish occasion.